Basic Folk Podcast: Allison Russell
Allison Russell’s story is unreal and it’s hard to know where to begin. Unfathomable childhood abuse: sexual, physical and emotional abuse (at the hands of her white supremacist step-father) is chronicled in searing detail for the very first time on her debut solo album Outside Child. Up until now she was not able to honestly address this story in her other projects: Birds of Chicago (with husband JT Nero), Our Native Daughters (with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah) and Po’ Girl (with Trish Klein and Awna Teixeira). These days, Allison recognizes that she needed the support system in her life in order to process and use her gift to share her story through music. That support system, which she calls “The Magic Circle,” includes her partner JT and her daughter Ida, her chosen family of musicians, her newly found biological father and extended Grenadian family and her ancestors. Mainly learning about her many times great-grandmother, Quasheba, and the extreme hardships she faced as a stolen slave in Grenada. Quasheba’s survival allowed Allison to realize that she also had the strength to reclaim agency over her story and break the cycle of abuse.
We talk about her learning where her abuser came from, a sundown town in Indiana, where being Black was basically illegal. Her abuser also made life difficult for Alli’s mom, who was struggling with schizophrenia, but loved music. The song “Kathy” talks about her mother putting the music away and she talks about the impact that had on her and on Allison. She ran away at 15 and started living on the streets on Montreal, until she made her way to Vancouver to connect with an uncle and an aunt who supported her interest in music. She began performing on the folk circuit, formed Po’Girl, met JT and started Birds of Chicago, had her daughter, Ida, and joined Our Native Daughters. She talks about how being a mom to Ida really was the catalyst of wanting to end the cycle of abuse and face her trauma. She actually ended up charging her abuser, facing him in court and seeing him sentenced. It was a light sentence, but it validated that what happened to her was wrong. The new album is joyful, which is intentional, everything about the new record is very intentional. Alli thrives in community and has chosen to remain positive and filled with light through this music.
Thank you, Alli!
> Facebook – @AllisonRussellMusic
> Instagram – @AllisonRussellMusic
> Twitter – @OutsideChild13